Dr. Matthew Prendel is an enigma. Attractive, quiet, independently wealthy – he is the perennial subject of cocktail party gossip. The most persistent rumor being that he was once shipwrecked on a deserted island. We’re told Prendel’s tale, the “true” version of what happened to him, from his lover. The conceit of the novel is that she, Phoebe Westore, is the author, not Flavia. The book is written in such a way as to support this illusion, opening with a preface where Phoebe explains her relationship to Dr. Prendel. She reveals the promise she made to Prendel to write down the story of the shipwreck only after his death. The Island of Last Truth is her fulfilling that promise.
We were lovers for almost seven years. One of my aims was to endure longer than his shipwreck. As if some kind of rivalry or a competition could be established with something like that. “You always want to defeat impossible opponents, Phoebe; opponents that aren’t even there. You take after your mother.” My victory has been bitter and, in truth, transient, because a “shipwreck” endures much longer than a shipwreck. It is like a lantern: it illuminates what you shine it on and the rest as well.
I don’t want to give too much away. The plot is full of unexpected shifts. Company wastes no time getting her protagonist onto the island and, once there, piles on the suspense. Prendel is not alone on the island. Nor does the story end with him escaping it. Nor is it all about him.
“…Part adventure story, part noir, and part mystery…”* I would add psychological thriller to that list. Laura McGloughlin has written a nuanced translation that captures all of the melancholia and foreboding of Flavia Company’s strange and wonderful novel. What works best in The Island of Last Truth is the perspective from which it is told. The main body of the book, describing Prendel’s experiences, are told to us in the third person by Phoebe. The rhythm of her voice remains consistent as it moves from Preface, to storytelling, and the end of the book where she attempts to fill the gaps in the story she’d been told. So fully realized a character is she that an image begins to form in the reader’s mind: of Phoebe listening to Prendel as he tells her his adventure. And then later writing it all down, occasionally pausing to stare into the distance, lost in her memories. It’s all very intimate. This is not only a book about a shipwreck, but about a woman trying to make sense of the enigmatic man with whom she had a relationship with for over seven years. A man, she comes to realize, she never knew at all.
Publisher: Europa Editions, New York (2011)
ISBN: 978 1 60945 081 6
*taken from the jacket copy